On March 12 the Wall Street Journal published an article (subscription required) about the security of the US electricity grid and its extreme vulnerability. Later that day the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a statement criticizing the WSJ for its story.
“Today’s publication by The Wall Street Journal of sensitive information about the grid undermines the careful work done by professionals who dedicate their careers to providing the American people with a reliable and secure grid. The Wall Street Journal has appropriately declined to identify by name particularly critical substations throughout the country. Nonetheless, the publication of other sensitive information is highly irresponsible. While there may be value in a general discussion of the steps we take to keep the grid safe, the publication of sensitive material about the grid crosses the line from transparency to irresponsibility, and gives those who would do us harm a roadmap to achieve malicious designs. The American people deserve better.”
That is true, the American people do deserve better. Taking a look out my window I see victorian age technology. A weary row of decades old wooden poles overburdened with every type of cabling. Mile after mile, they lean in every direction, interrupted by the occasional rats nests of spliced wires sprouting out of rusted junction boxes. It is upon this system, developed by generations long past that our way of life rests, with minimal investment and a lot of hope that it will somehow just keep on running.
In late 2012 the National Research Council issued an excellent report with takes up the issues surrounding grid security. “The U.S. electric power delivery system is vulnerable to terrorist attacks that could cause much more damage to the system than natural disasters such as Hurricane Sandy, blacking out large regions of the country for weeks or months and costing many billions of dollars”
Just yesterday Utility Dive released an excellent article pointing out the following: “If nine key substations are knocked out, the U.S. could suffer a crippling coast-to-coast blackout for 18 months — or more.”
So really, if a bunch of reporters and researchers can, by simply doing their jobs come up with these details, does anyone really think the bad guys can’t do this too?
So who can fix it? Utilities? They can’t even set their own prices because of our consumer need to believe that “electricity is cheap.” Electricity producers? Nope, this is a pure commodity business, they can’t make a profit unless they keep things “cheap” also.
The problem is us. Sorry to say, we have absolved ourselves of investing in ourselves and our national infrastructure. Unless things change, this is our legacy. What previous generations bequeathed to us we have largely failed to maintain and improve. We hire a government who rather than admit the obvious, instead criticizes the press for doing its job.
So today when you are driving around your town, notice those weary poles and thank your great-grandparents for building a really great system, thank the utilities for keeping it running on a shoestring, thank the power producers for keeping everything so cheap for us. And perhaps most importantly, lets thank ourselves for keeping a government in place who so effectively tells us just what we want to hear.